Nothing is Real Unless It Is Experienced

Poet John Keats was born on Halloween (before it was Halloween) in 1795 and died February 23, 1821 at the age of 25.   This young man penned some of the most beloved works of those who study literature, including “A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)” which starts with the famous line, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

But since this is Edu-Cat-Ion, here’s one of his works that’s not usually part of the curriculum:

To A Cat – Poem by John Keats

Cat! who has pass’d thy grand climacteric,
How many mice and rats hast in thy days
Destroy’d? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears – but prythee do not stick
Thy latent talons in me – and tell me all thy frays,
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick;
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists, –
For all the wheezy asthma – and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nick’d off – and though the fists
Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is thy fur as when the lists
In youth thou enter’dst on glass-bottled wall.

It’s a musing on a friend’s mother’s cat that’s sitting in his lap, and putting his claws into Keats.  The last two lines have some words which need to explained: “lists” are places of battle or tournaments.  “Glass-bottled wall” refers to the walls built with pieces of broken glass at the top to keep out intruders.

How does this relate to education?  Because things have now SIGNIFICANTLY changed – even though they were constantly changing since technology was introduced into the classroom – starting with the overhead and opaque projectors and moving through the BYOD fiasco that drove IT directors insane!  “Climacteric” refers to a time in a person’s life where they go through a dramatic change.  It could be adolescence, it could be menopause (male or female), or it could be that point where you look at someone who’s over 75 and think, “Wow…they got old.”

And that’s where education is today.  Educational leaders today came through the classroom model of education, and new teachers have been exposed to 1 to 1 initiatives, the flipped classroom, STEM/STEAM/STREAM, not to mention the rise of homeschooling, cyber, charter and cyber-charter schools.  Then there are online learning options, like Sal Kahn’s “Kahn Academy,” which has spun off countless learning opportunities available online.  Universities now offer students the ability to graduate from their institution by taking courses online from various colleges and universities, creating a customized curriculum specifically geared for the learner.

That’s something that high schools have only started to explore.  High schools currently have articulation agreements with colleges and universities, but what if a student could take a chemistry class online from a different public school district because of the reputation of the teacher in that district?  In the local public school district, the morning Advanced Calculus class may conflict with band during the first semester, and students have to choose one or the other.  That’s not necessarily the best option for the student, but it’s convenient for the school – and that model is being displaced by technology’s capabilities.

Some educational leaders don’t see this as a sustainable possibility, and therefore, not a real alternative.  However, in the words of Keats, “Nothing is real unless it is experienced.”  And today, we’ve experienced the power of learning without walls.  Some folks love it; other hate it; still others want to know why teachers are being paid if they’re not babysitting their kids for 6 hours a day.  Indeed, parents, you’ve now experienced the power of edtech.

Keats’ phrase is a powerful one, not only for education, but for dealing with students as well.  It’s been a mystery to parents for generation how talents and abilities can manifest themselves in children, while school leaders have seen students that have significant issues in learning because of the environment in which the children are raised.  The key to understanding these phenomena is not “nature” vs. “nurture,” it’s nature AND nurture…which create “the experience.”  Children are born with unique talents and abilities, and it’s how those qualities are fostered, or how those children are treated, or what kind of conditions those children reside in, that continuously shape the student.  This is especially true if there isn’t a presence of a male and female role model in the home or in the child’s “experience” of school.

For instance, let’s say a male child is born to a single mom.  This new mom lives with her mother because the grandfather of the newborn passed away, divorced his wife years ago, or simply left the responsibility of raising the child on the mother because they were never married.  After a few years, the child is enrolled in preschool, where the teachers are predominantly female, and then in an elementary school where the majority of teachers in the elementary grades are female.  It may not be until high school when the child encounters a consistent male presence in the classroom.  The dynamic would be a very interesting one to study.

Perhaps if you’ve come this far you’re thinking, “But everyone’s experience is different!”  Exactly.  Now keep that thought in mind, and consider the disconnect caused by the traditional classroom experience and standardized testing.  Let’s jump forward to today, and the classroom of the pandemic era.  Parents complained about standardized testing and the potential for bullying in the classroom.  When every student was not in the school building earlier this year, parents complained of having to supervise their children’s learning and try to motivate their children to complete their online assignments, which takes concentration and focus…something todays kids aren’t used to.  Apparently parents aren’t either…but they are used to complaining.